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Hot Diggity Dog for Hairspray! The Baltimore Fairy Tale Comes to Alexandria

Jordan Wright
July 23, 2011
Special to The Alexandria Times

L to R: Jacklyn Young as Penny, Christina Kidd as Amber, Shannon Kingett as Tracy, Christopher Harris as Edna - Photography by Doug Olmsted

L to R: Jacklyn Young as Penny, Christina Kidd as Amber, Shannon Kingett as Tracy, Christopher Harris as Edna - Photography by Doug Olmsted

The Council Kids: Meg Glassco, Reeny Eul, Jacob Wittenauer, Chris Rios - Photography by Doug Olmsted

The Council Kids: Meg Glassco, Reeny Eul, Jacob Wittenauer, Chris Rios - Photography by Doug Olmsted

Could a down-low Baltimore gore-obsessed gay filmmaker, thrown out of film school for smoking dope, carve a campy classic out of a cross-dressing trash-talking 350-pound trailer park transvestite named DIvine?  You betcha, Hon!  When art house cinematographer John Waters made Hairspray, the 1988 comedy film with Sonny Bono, Ricki Lake, Debbie Harry, and ohmygod little Pia Zadora, he was a far cry from mainstream culture.  Fast forward to the Tony Awards in 2003 when Hairspray the musical wins for Best Book of a Musical, Best Direction, Best Original Score and Best Performance for Harvey Fierstein.

The switch from screenplay to stage production was remarkably successful given its unconventional characters.  But what’s not to love about a stubborn, star-struck teen who against all odds pursues her dreams, an adoring father who supports his family by selling exploding cigars from his Har-de-Har Hut joke shop, and a steam iron-compulsive mother with a heart of gold, who’s the polar opposite of June Cleaver.

With original music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman the story takes us back to segregated 1950’s Baltimore, where weight-challenged teenybopper Tracy Turnblad, prays for the day she can get on television’s Corny Collins Show, a local American Bandstand-clone Waters based on the original real-life Buddy Deane Show.  Together with galpal, Penny Pingleton, they swoon and squeal for the handsome crooner and cool daddy-o, Link Larkin, and dream the impossible dream of the day they can shake and shimmy on the show.  But Tracy is no average teen, she’s confident, determined and socially aware, and through her efforts to get black and white kids to dance together on the show, “It’s so Afro-tastic! “she declares, she becomes the accidental integrationist.

In this production, one of the cheeriest, most heartfelt, rip-roaring musical productions ever to hit The Little Theatre of Alexandria, Director Sue Pinkman, has brought her acting knowledge and directing skills together to forge a solid cast of 30 singer/dancer/actors into a tightly-hewn, energetic, leap-out-of-your-seat musical.

 Mark Williams as Harriman F. Spritzer, Gardner Reed as Corny Collins, Janette Moman as Velma Von Tussle - Photography by Doug Olmsted

Mark Williams as Harriman F. Spritzer, Gardner Reed as Corny Collins, Janette Moman as Velma Von Tussle - Photography by Doug Olmsted

Shannon Kingett as Tracey; Christopher Harris as Edna - Photography by Doug Olmsted

Shannon Kingett as Tracey; Christopher Harris as Edna - Photography by Doug Olmsted

Choreographer Ivan Davila’s makes his own magic on the theatre’s modest stage with the exceptional challenge of smoothly arranging everyone in sync and on target for some terrific dancing – in one number 20 hoofers are on stage groovin’ to “The Madison” in Pinky’s Hefty Hideway, a shop for the weight-challenged and in the case of Mr. Pinky (Scott J. Strasbaugh) vertically-challenged too.

Seventeen musical numbers, a crack off-stage eight-piece band, plus saucy reprises from red hot mama Velma Von Tussle (Janette Moman) vamping her theme song “Miss Baltimore Crabs”, gives ample opportunity to give all the performers a chance to shine.  But how to single any one performer out of this stellar group when they all aced the test?  Below are a few standouts.

Shannon Kingett is Tracy Turnblad, or is it the other way round?  The young actress positively exhales Tracy – adorable, irrepressible and feisty.  Watch her turn the beat around from the first note of “Good Morning Baltimore”.

Gardner Reed as Corny Collins masterfully portraying the beloved bebop host-with-a-heart.

Christopher Harris as Edna Turnblad (Divine’s original role) with glorious timing and sly humor. “Pour me a teeny weeny triple.”  A perfect coupling with Larry Grey as hubby Wilbur Turnblad, their two-step duet, “You’re Timeless to Me”, proves opposites really do attract.

Adrian Cubbage playing the color-line breaking hipster Seaweed J. Stubbs with a deliciously sweet soulfulness to his voice in “Run and Tell That”, convincing Penny “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice.”

Brenda Parker as Motormouth Maybelle, with Zaria Stott as Shayna - Photography by Doug Olmsted

Brenda Parker as Motormouth Maybelle, with Zaria Stott as Shayna - Photography by Doug Olmsted

Brenda Parker as the rhyming Maybelle, “We can’t get lazy when things get crazy,” she tells the teens.  The savvy owner of Motormouth Records Shop, she will rip your heart out while you hold back the tears, in her powerful rendition of “I Know Where I’ve Been”.

Gina Tomkus ably handling four, yes four! parts as the scene-stealing geeky gym teacher, one of the chorus of Pinkettes, Penny’s dowdy overbearing mother, Prudy Pingleton, and the sexy leather-clad, whip-snapping prison matron.  How is this possible?

The whole Motormouth Gang, “If we get anymore white people in here it’s gonna be a suburb!” And little Derrick “Blake” Hopkins Jr. as Stooie, who snags the most timely line of the night with his flip response to Tracy’s “Where do you go after Special Ed?” “Congress!” he wisely quips.

A tremendously talented cast all around in a huge hit for The Little Theatre.  Does Tracy get her man?  Is her hair high enough? Does she win the title of Miss Teenage Hairspray? What do you think, Hon?

At The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street, through August 13th.  For tickets and information call 703 683-5778 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com.

 

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